Multi-stakeholder coalitions can be a powerful and cost-effective way for businesses and organizations to influence public policy. We’ve formed and managed dozens of these, addressing a wide array of issues and involving many companies and industries. Along we way, we’ve learned a few things, including:
1: Make sure organizing a coalition is worth the effort
Organizing and managing coalitions is hard work. Hard enough, in fact, that it’s worth careful consideration to make sure it’s worth the effort of creating an organization, rather than going it alone. Before deciding to form a coalition, ask yourself these questions:
* Will it reduce the amount of time and/or money you need to spend to achieve your public policy objectives?
* Do you have enough common ground with your potential coalition partners that you can remain united for the duration?
* Do you need the credibility of a diverse, multi-stakeholder coalition to get the job done?
2: Choose your legal structure carefully
It’s almost reflexive when contemplating a new coalition to consider establishing some sort of non-profit, legal structure to serve as your organizing entity. After all, non-profits have a patina of credibility and you can come up with all sorts of cool names, acronyms and logos for them, right? While there is some truth to this, setting up and managing a non-profit entity can be time consuming and expensive. Attorneys can charge several thousand dollars (or more) depending on the type of non-profit status for which you think you might qualify.
There is also a cost associated with managing these organizations in accordance with the rules and regulations of your taxing authorities. Remember, non-profit entities pay a reduced or no tax at all, so don’t be surprised when the IRS and their local counterparts show more than a passing interest in what you’re doing. Make sure you know what you’re taking on before you set up your coalition structure as there may be less-expensive and time-consuming options that will serve your purpose. We’re not attorneys but we strongly advise you to consult one before deciding how to structure your coalition.
3: Capture the high ground with your mission and messaging
The power of numbers can quickly diminish if the mission and message of your coalition is perceived as self-serving. Nobody likes a bully, particularly one that is well-funded and seeking to tilt public policy in their own economic self-interest. To be successful, coalitions (particularly ones formed by the business sector) must find an approach and a message that speaks to the greater good while also serving their specific interests.
4: Know where the goal line is and be prepared to shut down after crossing it
Perhaps the biggest fear of the typical coalition funder is that they’ll give birth to an organization that never goes away. In our view, coalitions should be tightly focused on a specific set of objectives and organized in such a way as to be easily shuttered once those objectives are met. Showing some appreciation for this can help attract funders and maintain their trust while serving to keep the organization sharp, purposeful and effective during its useful lifespan.